Tidal stream energy can serve as ‘effective complement’ to wider UK’s net zero and energy security efforts, report finds

The report on the potential of tidal stream energy to support sustainable growth in the UK, published by Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change & the Environment, has concluded that this form of energy can serve as an effective complement to wider efforts on both net zero and energy security.

Illustration/Orbital Marine Power's O2 tidal energy turbine (Courtesy of Orbital Marine Power)

The report, titled ‘Seizing sustainable growth opportunities from tidal stream energy in the UK’, assesses the potential contribution of tidal stream energy to sustainable growth in the UK, drawing on a review of the existing literature and new analysis of trade and patents data.

The assessment is used to determine whether tidal stream energy constitutes a strategic priority for sustainable growth in the UK, and if so, what the immediate steps should be to maximize potential growth opportunities from the sector.

According to the report, developing the UK’s tidal stream energy sector can support regionally-balanced growth across the country.

The researchers argue that the UK should pursue tidal stream energy underpinned by a strong domestic supply chain to maximize sustainable growth opportunities from this emerging technology.

This would require rapidly developing the UK supply chain’s capacity to deliver domestic projects cost effectively and at scale, while continuing to invest in technological innovations to drive further cost reductions.

The report states that this would be a ‘low-regrets approach’ for the UK, regardless of how the global market and supply chains elsewhere for tidal stream energy may pan out.

While the global market for tidal stream energy remains small, the UK would have built capacity to quickly expand a domestic source of low-carbon energy supply, with significant benefits for the energy system and strong potential to support growth across its regions, the paper reads.

In a future where the global market picks up, the UK, having positioned itself at the forefront of technological development, would readily be able to export some complex products in which it has specialism alongside its knowledge and services underpinned by its innovative strengths abroad, the analysis found.

In the report, Scotland was found to be well-placed to lead the development of tidal stream energy, and the expertise developed there could support the sector’s growth in the rest of the UK.

When it comes to investments in tidal stream energy innovation, it was found that they yield higher estimated economic returns for the UK relative to other clean technology areas.

Increased support for innovation could keep the UK at the frontier of technological development for tidal stream energy, enabling it to scale up a low-carbon energy source in its own waters, and to capture export opportunities when the global market picks up, the report states.

However, the authors warn the UK’s ability to secure such opportunities will depend on timely investments in the domestic supply chain.

Recommendations for policymakers to seize vast tidal energy potential

Illustration/Nova Innovation's tidal turbine (Courtesy of Nova Innovation)
Illustration/Nova Innovation’s tidal turbine (Courtesy of Nova Innovation)

An explicit statement of government ambition in tidal stream energy would help to drive private sector investment into the domestic supply chain and the delivery of the technology at scale in UK waters. This could be in the form of a domestic deployment target in gigawatt terms, as advocated by industry, according to the report.

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme can continue to be utilized to scale up relatively established tidal stream technologies in the UK. The report also adds that a continued ringfencing approach for tidal stream energy can accelerate deployment and catalyze drivers of cost reduction for the technology, as previously seen in offshore wind.

When it comes to the government, it can maximize sustainable growth opportunities from tidal stream energy by coordinating policy across deployment and supply chain development. In particular, proactive coordination across the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Business and Trade, and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is needed on this agenda.

Also, the government should consult with industry to explore which mechanisms can most effectively carry early-stage tidal stream concepts to commercialization, building on the UK’s innovative strengths in tidal stream technology to create economic benefits.

The report also found that a holistic strategy for the offshore economy that includes tidal stream alongside carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and offshore wind is likely to yield greater economic benefits than pursuing any single area alone. The UK demonstrates complementary specialisms for these three technologies at both a national and regional level, the report concludes.

The UK Marine Energy Council welcomed the reports findings, with Richard Arnold, policy director at the council, saying: “This is a fantastic and instructive report for policymakers focused on delivering net zero. Tidal stream can have a key role in realizing that target, whilst delivering green growth and opportunities for coastal communities and beyond.

“The UK is a global leader in tidal stream energy and has over 11GW of accessible capacity. With over 90% of the world’s economy now covered by net zero targets, the demand for predictable renewable power will continue to grow. The UK government must act to maintain its leadership and support British companies exporting innovative tidal stream technology around the world.”

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